Democratic Whip says high school sports legislation is moving ‘too fast,’ wants to work with NCHSAA

By Nick Stevens, HighSchoolOT managing editor Raleigh, N.C. — On Tuesday morning, House Bill 91…

— On Tuesday morning, House Bill 91 was about students with autism, but by Wednesday afternoon, the bill had passed through the Senate Committee on Education as legislation that would dismantle the N.C. High School Athletic Association and create a new commission appointed by politicians to run high school athletics in North Carolina.

The education committee met on Tuesday to discuss the amended bill. Republican and Democratic senators raised concerns about the NCHSAA, but there was some reservation from some Democrats about dissolving the association all together.

One of the Democrats who raised concerns about the NCHSAA and about the bill was Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake), the Democratic Whip.

Speaking before the education committee on Wednesday, Chaudhuri said dissolving the NCHSAA right now would be liked “calling the game in the second inning, not the ninth inning,” adding that “the death penalty” for the NCHSAA is not the right course of action “at this point in time.”

After the committee voted to send the bill to the Senate Committee on Finance, which will consider the legislation on Thursday morning at 9 a.m., Chaudhuri told HighSchoolOT that he has concerns about transparency, accountability, appeals processes, finances, and other things, but he believes things are moving too quickly right now.

“I think I where I depart from my senate colleagues who are pushing this bill is that I think it’s moving too quickly, too fast,” he said. “We really haven’t even agreed on a set of findings that has come from the investigation of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. I think that there are a lot of facts that we haven’t agreed upon, although we’ve made a lot of recommendations.”

For months, the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations has investigated the NCHSAA. Que Tucker, the commissioner of the NCHSAA, was invited to speak with the committee one time. However, Chaudhuri points out that the committee never issued a report on its findings and instead legislation was proposed to dissolve the NCHSAA.

There are disagreements between the NCHSAA and the legislators who are sponsoring the proposal. In both hearings this week, senators claimed the NCHSAA had been uncooperative and refused to provide documents when asked, but Tucker said she provided the information once she was authorized to do so by the NCHSAA Board of Directors. There is also confusion about exactly how much cash the NCHSAA has, how much is restricted, how much is in operating costs, and how much is reserved.

“I think we had bits and pieces of that (information) from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association today, but I think that we have to have a better grasp on those numbers,” Chaudhuri said, adding these sorts of things should be sorted out before any legislation is passed.

“I don’t think it’s good public policy for us to make recommendations without agreeing upon a set of facts,” he said.

As for the proposal itself, Chaudhuri said he has concerns about some of what is in the bill. He said creating a commission to oversee high school sports where members are appointed by the governor and the state legislature could inject politics into high school athletics.

“My real concern is that we’re seeing an example of government overreach and big government essentially now governing high school athletics, and I think that this governing board is far more political than what we have in place right now,” Chaudhuri said. “I would much rather see a 110-plus-year organization that’s had a pretty good track record … for generations of high school athletes, including myself, growing up in Cumberland County, and from my perspective, I think we should begin with the assumption that non-partisan coaches, non-partisan athletic directors, and non-partisan principals are in a better position to decide what’s best for our student-athletes than a group of political appointees.”

Chaudhuri said he has spoken with representatives from the NCHSAA and he plans to continue communicating with them. He said he wants to try to move the NCHSAA to have more conversations so there can be more dialogue between the association and Republican leadership.

Instead of getting rid of the NCHSAA, Chaudhuri said he hopes they can save it. He noted that the NCHSAA received strong support from the N.C. Athletic Directors Association, the N.C. Coaches Association, and the National Federation of State High School Associations, among others.

“Part of what (the NFHS) statement talked about is the fact that this association has actually been a model and has been emulated by their associations,” Chaudhuri said. “It’s our job to try to improve organizations and improve their governance, and I agreed to that … my initial take on it is it’s just too much, too fast.”

Concern has grown about the future of high school athletics in North Carolina since the amendment to HB 91 was proposed on Tuesday. Tucker told HighSchoolOT that high school athletics “hangs in the balance,” potentially even for the 2021-2022 school year.

“I would say that those concerns are valid, and it’s a reason I’m asking those questions … because I’m hearing the same thing from coaches and student-athletes about the push to completely transform the way our high school athletics are governed,” Chaudhuri said. “I think that those (proposed changes) can have real consequences … Is this the best moment in time for us to completely dissolve and then build a new bureaucracy at a time when we should try to figure out how to improve it and work on providing more support to make sure that ultimately these student-athletes have the best experience? … I think that there’s a real concern that it’s going to undermine the confidence that so many of these individuals that play a critical part in managing and administering high school athletics, that it will undermine their confidence in the program, and we could see a real disruption potentially in the way that our high school athletic programs are run.”

Chaudhuri said if the bill passes the Senate, it would go to the House of Representatives where it would have to go through the committee process before being voted on by the full House. If it passes both the Senate and the House, it would go to Gov. Roy Cooper who would have to decide whether or not to sign the bill into law.

Cooper could veto the bill if it gets to his desk. If that happens, the Republican-led legislature could attempt to override the veto, but they would need the support from some Democrats.

Chaudhuri said he has not surveyed every member of the Democratic caucus, but he doesn’t think the two parties are on the same page with HB 91.

“I think there are bipartisan and shared concerns about the high school athletic association, and I think that those things have been looked at in discussion the past few committee meetings, but is the solution bipartisan? You know, my sense is, I don’t think we’re there,” Chaudhuri said. “I mean, certainly there’s not an overwhelming bipartisan support in moving with this recommendation … I think you heard a lot of Senate Democrats raised concerns about how fast this was moving, and I think the opportunity to try to engage the athletic association more before deciding to completely dissolve it.”